It’s a new year, which means you’re probably thinking about getting back in shape and living a healthier lifestyle, but if you reside in Downtown Santa Monica, chances are you don’t have to. You’re most likely already fit.
How could you not be? Barring a physical hindrance, getting a good workout and eating healthy in DTSM is as easy as a professional body builder lifting a 5-pound dumbbell over her head. It seems that on every corner there is a yoga or Pilates studio, juicer, spa, organic eatery and retail outlet selling the best athletic apparel and tech fitness gear.
Purchasing unprocessed food is a snap as downtown is home to a twice-weekly farmers’ market. There are more than a dozen bike-share stations beckoning people to ride and not drive, burning fat instead of fuel.
And if you’re low on cash, no worries. The city’s temperate climate leaves little excuse to not jog along the beach or climb the famous Fourth Street stairs all year long. The Memorial Park gym offers membership for residents for as little as $24 a month and you can swim at Santa Monica College for less than the price of a quinoa bowl.
Seeing sexy abs and bulging biceps at every turn provides more than enough motivation to get to moving.
“This is the workout Mecca of the United States,” said Santa Monica-based fitness expert and sports model Danielle Pascente, who sells “Kick-Ass” training guides on her website http://daniellepascente.com/. On Instagram, where she has amassed nearly 23,000 followers, she posts fitness tips, inspirational comments and engages with fans who want advice on their workouts and meal plans.
“On any given day, there are people moving about, going to the farmers’ market, walking, biking, rollerblading; Santa Monica is such an active and health conscious community,” Pascente said. “Everyone is about health and wellness and feeling good. It’s a bit of a vanity thing for sure. People want to look good. So, they are always in search of the best workouts, the best trainers, the best places to order food — top of the line stuff. I’m from Arizona, and people there wouldn’t even think of paying as much as we do for a personal trainer, a green juice or a wellness shot. But people in L.A. don’t think twice about it. They want the best, but they also want to get their monies worth.”
The health and wellness industry in Downtown Santa Monica plays a critical role in the economy, providing stable entry-level employment for front-desk staff and six-figure salaries for top-of-the-line personal trainers, some of whom can earn as much as $200,000 annually. (The average for the L.A. area is $35,000 to $45,000, 6 percent above the national average, according to GlassDoor.com, a jobs and recruiting site.)
Retail may be taking a hit thanks to the growing popularity of online shopping, but the popularity of athletic apparel still gives people a reason to come shop on the Third Street Promenade. Workout wear seems to be the dress code in DTSM.
“Jeans? What are those,” joked Kayla Allen, co-owner with Marni Chaikin of Pure Barre studio on Wilshire Boulevard. The pair also own the Brentwood location and recently sold off their Woodland Hills branch. “It’s athleisure all day, every day. I don’t see people in jeans, hardly ever.”
Whereas some communities boast manufacturing or farming, Downtown Santa Monica has tech and entertainment, two fields that support fitness and wellness. Tech workers are being asked to work longer hours and need to boost their stamina and mental focus. Some employers offer free yoga classes and massages in the workplace. One co-working space went so far as to bring in fresh farmers’ market vegetables every Wednesday so a chef could create custom juices for workers.
(A scene from the Downtown Santa Monica Pure Barre studio. Yes, men are welcome. Photo courtesy Pure Barre Santa Monica.)
“The demographic doesn’t get more ideal than Santa Monica in terms of the age groups, per capita income, the proximity to all the shopping and other fitness studios, and people are just very mind-body aware,” said Chaikin, who opened Pure Barre Brentwood in 2009 as more people became interested in specialized classes. “The general rule is, if there’s a Whole Foods nearby, generally the neighborhood can support a boutique fitness studio. (Downtown Santa Monica) couldn’t be a better location.”
The City of Santa Monica’s business license database shows there are 119 business registered under the Fitness, Health, Gym, and Training categories, 29 of those in Downtown Santa Monica and the 90401 zip code. Twenty-two businesses in Santa Monica are registered under the Sporting Goods category. There are many others, mainly personal trainers, who fail to register with the City, opting to be paid in cash.
Santa Monica-based businesses specializing in sporting goods and bike sales generated over $57 million in sales tax for the City in 2016, a 6 percent increase over the year prior. Sales continued to jump in the first two quarters of 2017 when compared to the same period in 2016, and far outpaced sales growth in Los Angeles County and the State, where numbers are actually on the decline. (City officials would not release business license tax information for gyms and health clubs because the business group is comprised of a much smaller batch of individual businesses than sporting goods, making that information confidential under the City’s municipal code. Figures can be released only for categories with a greater number of businesses. The concern is that for small business groups one could deduce annual sales for each.)
“Santa Monica has a rich history of being at the forefront of the fitness movement, so it’s no wonder that it is home to a significant share of fitness related business, which not only provide revenue for the city, but also steady employment and they support the wellbeing of our residents,” said Jennifer Taylor, who manages the Buy Local Santa Monica campaign for the City of Santa Monica. “These are jobs that cannot be outsourced, helping to stabilize the local economy. Gyms, health clubs, as well as bike stores, yoga and pilates studios are also great ways for residents to buy local given that most exercise near where they live or work.”
Another benefit of fitness: Downtown employees tend to exercise either before or after work, helping to cut down on rush-hour congestion.
“Our most popular classes are 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.,” said Jim Cahlin, owner of the OrangeTheory Fitness studio in downtown. “We have members coming in from outside of Santa Monica because they work here and want to beat the traffic.”
The sales and business license numbers make sense when looking at credit card purchases made in Downtown Santa Monica. Data show that residents over the last year were more than twice as likely as the average American to have taken a class at a fitness studio. Santa Monicans were also far more likely than the average American to have purchased at-home weight lifting equipment, a stationary bicycle, gym bags, athletic shoes or get treatment by an acupuncturist. They eschew sugary drinks in favor of teas or juices.
“Our clients are very health conscious and see that internal health shines through external beauty,” said Kristina Vystartaite, director of the Radiance Wellness Spa on Fourth Street, which specializes in all-natural beauty and wellness products, as well as Reiki energy healing and infrared sauna sessions. “Santa Monica customers ask the right questions about ingredients, benefits and more. They want to know what they are using.”
The spa recently expanded its product offerings to include fresh-pressed juices, superfood snacks and wellness drops. “Healers” at the spa help clients detox to aid weight loss goals or offer products to help them recover faster from intense workouts.
The beauty and wellness industry reached $16.3 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2017. Vystartaite said her average client spends around $200 every time they walk into the spa.
There are about 55 million people with memberships at the roughly 36,000 gyms or health clubs in the U.S. Globally there are more than 150 million people with gym memberships.
The gym and fitness studio industry has grown over the five years to 2017, bolstered by public health initiatives that have shed light on the role of exercise in fighting diabetes, obesity and other ailments. That translated into an estimated $30.5 billion in revenue. Profit is expected to rise to 12.9 percent of industry revenue, driven by robust demand for traditional gyms and niche studios.
“Many consumers have become increasingly health conscious, demanding a greater variety of options, both in terms of adjusting their diets and through an increase in demand for various fitness activities,” states a market report by IBISWorld. “Over the five years to 2022, many baby boomers are expected to sign up for health club memberships, as they grow more health conscious due to their age. Consequently, industry revenue is forecast to grow at an annualized rate of 1.5 percent to $32.9 billion during the five-year period. Furthermore, employers may increasingly subsidize gym memberships for their employees and parents will continue to seek out fitness programs for their children as concerns regarding childhood obesity grow.”
Investing in the health and wellness industry seems like a safe bet, however, operating your own gym or creating your brand like trainer and fitness model Pascente requires many hours of attention and there are no guarantees of success. Opening a business in Santa Monica can be onerous, and standing out amongst the plethora of choices requires marketing expertise and some luck.
Pascente said she and her husband spend several hours a week coming up with compelling social media content to keep her followers engaged. But it’s worth it when she can collect hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars by partnering with brands on social media campaigns. “It’s a lot more work than people think,” she said. “Eight or nine years ago it was much simpler. Now there are greater expectations. People expect perfect, crystal clear pictures, cinematic effects and a certain look to your feed. But I can’t imagine being in the online space without building an Instagram following. It’s key to my business. In the end, you’re not just sharing some workouts. You’re sharing your life.”
To retain members after the New Year’s resolution phase wears off, studios host happy hours for clients or invite athletic brands and health-food businesses to classes, giving sweaty attendees free products or discounts. Some partner with charities to expand their reach.
“It’s a very competitive market,” Cahlin said. “We are constantly improving so that we are up to date, if not at the forefront.”
Probably the most important lesson is creating a fun, social atmosphere so that clients can’t help but want to come to class, whether it’s because they want to find out the latest news or they don’t want to be reprimanded by their classmates for not living up to their verbal commitment to get in shape.
“That has been one of the more rewarding aspects. People who had never met before are now BFFs,” Cahlin said of his members. “They come to class together, grab coffee afterwards, go surfing together. It’s been amazing to see. It’s the highlight of it all.”